Our month-long discussion of German beer ends with a salute to the world’s oldest brewery: Weihenstephan. The brewery’s nearly 1,300-year history, inextricably intertwined with the founding of the Bavarian berg of Freising, begins in 725 A.D. when Saint Corbinian and 12 followers founded a Benedictine monastery.
Corbinian, a Frankish monk, was ordained a bishop and tasked to evangelize Bavaria. While traveling through the Alps from Rome, legend says, a bear attacked him and killed his packhorse. To punish the bear, Corbinian somehow forced it to carry his belongings to Germany. The image of the saddled bear was used in the Freising coat of arms and on Weihenstephan beer labels.
The roots of monks brewing in Freising can be traced to a document from the year 768 A.D. The record references a hop garden in the area paying a tithe (10 percent) of its harvest to the abbey. Later, those hops were used in brews drunk by the monks in the monastery.
For nearly 300 years, the monastery continued to brew for its own consumption; in 1020, a group of Benedictine monks settled on the Weihenstephaner berg south of Freising. Twenty years on, the monastery was licensed to brew and sell beer to the public.
The fame of the Weihenstephan brewery was solidified when, in 1516, Wilhelm IV, Duke of Bavaria, issued the Bavarian Purity Law on the footsteps of the monastery. The law required barley to be the only grain used to produce beer, and water and hops the only other ingredients.
For nearly 800 years, the brewery prospered through destruction and rebuilding due to war, fire, plague, famine and even earthquake. With the rise of the French Republic and the secularization of a large portion of Europe, the brewery became the property of the Bavarian state with all rights and possessions transferred accordingly.
Instead of closing the brewery, the state continued its brewing tradition, making it part of a technical brewing school in 1865, becoming Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, or Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan, in 1921.
Despite the Purity Law, throughout its history, Weihenstephaner has been known for its wheat beers. Perhaps its best-known brews are Weihenstephaner Weissbier, available as a filtered Kristalweizen or unfiltered Hefeweizen. It also produced styles such as pilsner, helles and festbier.
Here are a few Weihenstephaner beers you’ll enjoy:
HEFEWEISSBIER Aromas of clove and banana rise from the fluffy, white head that forms when poured into a glass. The full-bodied mouth-feel is a smooth drinking experience thick with banana and yeasty flavors.
VITUS A single bock brew, Vitus teases your nose with aromas of dried apricots, citrus, cloves and hints of banana. The creamy head is from a highly carbonated beer effervescent in the mouth, with the fruity flavors of the aroma. At 7.7-percent ABV, it’s one of Weihenstephaner’s higher alcohol beers.
FESTBIER Brewed for Oktoberfest and festival season, it’s a hoppy, full-bodied lager with a pleasant bitter brew supported by a mildly sweet malt backbone.